“Human Smuggler is a Respectable Profession in Turkey”

Marmaris harbor (aerial view), Muğla Province, southwest Turkey (Photo: Mstyslav Chernov / Wikimedia Commons)

Due to the economic crisis in Türkiye, many Turks end up in the criminal circuit and become human smugglers, Turkish residents see. The situation is so serious human smuggling is considered by many to be a respectable profession in Erdogan’s country: “They reduce all the nuisance refugees need to face in Turkey”

It is tropically hot in Türkiye’s leafy resort of Marmaris. The small port town lies in a large bay in green, hilly surroundings. Marmaris is a cosy town with many restaurants, hotels, bars with live music and entertainment venues. It is a few days before the Feast of Sacrifice and the shops are bulging with delicious food and Turkish residents stuffing their fridges with delicious food.

In this friendly, cosy town, residents see trucks stopped by Turkish police every day.

“These are full of illegal immigrants on their way from Türkiye’s biggest city Istanbul, where most of the immigrants live. They all drive towards the coast; from Marmaris, it’s just under an hour by boat to the Greek island of Rhodes,” said a Turkish man who has lived in a small village next to Marmaris for 20 years.

Human Smuggling in Turkey: A Lucrative and Respected Job

“An acquaintance of mine was a people smuggler, transporting 150 people at a time on a boat to Greece. He demanded 1 000 euros compensation for the trip from each illegal immigrant.” So families with four children had to pay 6,000 euros.

“Each time, he earned about 150 000 euros, and that about three times a week. He had suitcases full of money at home. A while ago, this man capped his illegal activities. He had made enough money, drives a new expensive car and no longer wants to risk being caught by Turkish police.”

The penalties for human trafficking in Turkey are high: years in prison and if a boat sinks and people are killed, the arrested human trafficker ends up in jail for 20 years.

Turks generally respect people smugglers because they are tired of the many refugees in their country. “They do a noble task in the eyes of the average Turkish citizen: they reduce the number of refugees in their country,” says a woman just shopping for the Feast of Sacrifice.

Türkiye officially accepts over 3.6 million refugees mainly from Syria. The real figure is probably higher. And these are becoming an eyesore for many Turks.

Clashes, Deaths and Tension

It started last summer in the capital Ankara. An argument escalated into a stabbing, killing a Turkish boy. When it was reported in the media that the perpetrator was a Syrian refugee, hundreds of young people rallied to take revenge. They moved into a neighbourhood where mostly Syrians live, stormed Syrian shops and houses and left a trail of destruction.

In September, something similar happened in the city of Izmir, in western Turkey. Homes and cars of Syrians were set on fire, shops vandalized. That same month, three Syrian boys were killed in a fire in their flat. Investigations later revealed that the fire was set, a Turkish man made a confession. Later, a 19-year-old Syrian was stabbed to death in his Istanbul flat by masked men.

No Turk seems happy about the refugees. Certainly not in the biggest city Istanbul, where most Syrians live. “The city is modern and the refugees are more conservative and extreme Muslims so they cannot integrate well with the prevailing culture. Many refugees still wear burkas, for example. Added to this, many refugees steal and beg. The impact of the many refugees on life in Turkey is great. People feel less safe because there are many more house burglaries,” explains a Turkish woman wiping tables in a café in Marmaris. “That was not the case before the refugees came. Everyone paid attention to each other, there used to be great social control. But because of the immigrants, that control is gone and Istanbul has become an unsafe city.”

Migrants Impact Prices and the Economy As Well

Security is not the only reason for hatred of refugees. The huge rise in prices in Turkey also play a big role, says a Dutch woman who has lived in Turkey for decades. “In the past year and a half, prices have risen by about 360 percent. After the elections in which Erdogan won, another 12 per cent. For example, if you rent a flat of around 800 euros a month and earn only 1000 euros a month, you can barely buy food. Energy prices have also become extremely high. Then many Turks find it unfair to see foreigners in their country getting free food, shelter and education while they can barely pay their food and bills.”

For many Turkish people the economic crisis is also a reason to get into the criminal circuit and become human traffickers, for example, the woman observes. “You are almost forced into it because many people cannot make ends meet in the ordinary way.”

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